In light of the COVID-19 social distancing restrictions now in place, you and your attorney can now put a comprehensive estate plan in place without leaving your home? This is particularly important for older people who may put off their estate planning because it’s difficult or dangerous for them to get out. However, anyone can develop an estate plan using videoconferencing and other alternatives to in-person communication.
Let’s look at some of the foundational documents that just about everyone should have in their estate plan:
Living (revocable) trust – A big advantage of a living trust is that you can designate who gets the bulk of your assets while allowing your loved ones to avoid having a potentially costly, time-consuming probate process.
Will – The basic alternative to a revocable trust. Time tested and simple to set up but costly to administer after death. A will is required will even if you have a living trust to cover any items that were either intentionally or unintentionally not placed into the trust. That would be called a “pour-over will.” Again, if you don’t have a trust, your will is the primary document in your estate plan.
Durable Powers of Attorney (DPOA) – This document grants legal authority to others to make decisions for you regarding your finances. It can be tailored to be effective immediately or only upon the occurrence of a particular event, such as incapacity..
Health Care Proxy/HIPPA release – In New York, a properly drafted health care proxy allows your designated representative to get information from your doctors and make decisions regarding your medical treatment if you are not able to do so. A health care proxy ensures that your appointed agent can relay your wishes on your medical care so that you receive the care that you want (and refuse the care that you may not want). The health care proxy can save your loved ones from having to make excruciatingly difficult decisions without knowing what you would have wanted to do in that situation.
When estate planning documents are drawn up, some documents require both witnesses to be present for your signature and notarization of your signature and those of your witnesses. This can be extremely difficult to accomplish today with much of our area being under lockdown.
However, here in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed an executive order that allows documents to be both witnessed and notarized via videoconferencing. Strict procedural requirements must be followed but the executive act permits people to put their affairs in order at a time when otherwise the law would prevent such actions.
Not being able to get to your attorney’s office is no reason not to put a proper estate plan in place or make changes to your current plan if you need.